Vote for New Miami Soccer Stadium Could Mean End for Melreese CC

Voters in Miami, Fla. approved a referendum to allow city officials to forego the usual bidding process and instead negotiate a lease deal with a group headed by soccer star David Beckham to build a Major League Soccer complex on the property occupied by Melreese CC, the last city-owned public course. Supporters of the city’s golf scene are now concerned about the fate of the course and programs like the First Tee that it has supported.

Voters in Miami, Fla. gave their approval on November 6thby a 60-40 margin for city officials to forego the usual bidding process for public land and instead negotiate a no-bid lease deal with a group headed by retired soccer star David Beckham to build a Major League Soccer complex on the property occupied by Melreese Country Club, the last remaining city-owned public golf course, reported the Fort Lauderdale Sun Sentinel.

Beckham’s group is also planning to have technology offices, a hotel and retail space on the land, in return for guaranteeing the city about $3.6 million in rent annually, the Sun Sentinel reported.

The next step for Beckham and his partners, the Sun Sentinel reported, will be to negotiate the terms with city officials for the 25,000-seat stadium and transforming the rest of what is now Melreese CC into a 58-acre public park.

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Tuesday’s win was the first big one for Beckham’s club, officially named Club Internacional de Futbol Miami—or Inter Miami. Beckham has considered and wanted several other sites over the years, before turning his attention to Melreese in recent months, the Sun Sentinel reported.

“I started this dream five and a half years ago—to bring a team to Miami, to bring a team to this great city,” Beckham said at an election-night rally. “To bring a team to you, the people. We’ve had some speed bumps along the way. We’ve had a few problems along the way.”

Beckham’s group has also committed to spend about $35 million to clean up toxic waste at the site and pay a living wage for employees, the Sun Sentinel reported.

The land deal has had critics on multiple fronts, the Sun Sentinel reported, with some like Miami native and longtime pro golfer Erik Compton asking voters to save the course and others filing legal challenges saying the city is required to not only have competitive bidding but to get fair market value when selling or leasing property.

Golf Digest reported that the voters’ decision was met with disappointment by the Miami golf community. Melreese CC has been around for more than a half century, has hosted the PGA Tour Latinoamericano Championship the past two years, and is home to the Miami-Dade chapter of the First Tee, a program with 5,000 kids, Golf Digest reported. The course also helped produce pro tour players like Cristie Kerr, in addition to Compton.

“We’re obviously not happy about the results but are thankful for our community’s support,” First Tee Board member Carlos Rodriguez said after the election. “Now it sits at the city commission to decide on how to negotiate the development agreement.

“If it does go forward, we’re hoping [Beckham’s group] will stick to their word about not just protecting The First Tee of Miami program but helping to enhance and expand it,” Rodriguez added.

“From a First Tee of Miami perspective, it would mean uprooting a program from the city of Miami that has been here over a decade and impacted thousands of kids,” Rodriguez continued. “We are hoping that they do the right thing on behalf of our participants. That’s our focus as well.”

Melreese CC occupies a large, prime parcel of land adjacent to Miami International Airport and sits just six miles west of downtown, Golf Digest reported. Many of the details of the deal, however, still remain unclear, including how to clean up the plume of toxic waste, left over from an old city incinerator used decades ago, that currently sits under the Melreese property.

Though Beckham & Co. have said they would commit the $35 million to the cleanup, Golf Digest noted, the actual cost and extent of the cleanup is unknown. There are other matters, too, like the rebuilding of roads and increased traffic, in addition to what would happen to The First Tee program.

In addition, Golf Digest reported, the project continues to have critics on multiple fronts, from petitions to lawsuits, including one complaint filed just this week that claims Beckham’s group violated Florida bribery laws by giving out soccer gifts at polling locations.

Once the group brings its final proposal to the city, Golf Digest reported, it will need four of the city’s five commissioners to sign off on it. In a vote earlier this summer just to get the subject on the ballot for Election Day, three of the five OK’d doing so after a series of contentious public meetings. The two commissioners who opposed it remain firm in their position, but their seats will also be up for grabs in another election next November.